Full Review: Hit me baby one more time. No seriously, the announcer says that, someone hit him.
Come back with me to the year 1993. Midway's NBA Jam was the biggest game in arcades everywhere. You played a game of no-rules "extreme" 2-on-2 basketball with wild dunks, on court violence, the Turbo button, and a crazy announcer. In the eight years since Midway would use this formula to create more "extreme" sports titles like NFL Blitz and now NHL Hitz (don't forget NHL Open Ice). All I want to know is does Midway not see the mass potential in my idea to complete the big four and make MLB Slam (and for the slow, MLB Slam is not a real game and will never be a real game)? Oh well, I can dream can't I?
However we're talking about NHL Hitz here, or to be more specific NHL Hitz 20-02 for the PlayStation 2. Before we start I just want to say please don't ask what the hyphen is for in the middle of the year in the title. I've been racking my brain about it since the game's release and all I've done is give myself a headache. Well, hockey seems a natural sport to put the Jam formula to good use with. And it uses that formula well, kind of. To put it simply, NHL Hitz does what it is supposed to do well, for about a weekend. After that, NHL Hitz doesn't really have the depth to be anything more than a weekend rental, it's good, but it's just not great.
The main flaw of NHL Hitz is right there in it's gameplay. It's just so frustrating. I mean the control is good; it uses the same simple three-button Jam setup (Shoot, Pass, Turbo) we've all gotten used to. So it's no problem to pick the game up and just go. The problem comes in whether you win or lose doesn't depend so much on your skill in using those controls, but on whether or not your computer controlled goalie decides to have a good day. It also hurts the gameplay when NHL Hitz sadly comes down to nothing more than old-fashioned button mashing. And then of course whether or not your favorite team is one of the NHL's elite teams (I feel sorry for you Lightning fans) is key, because a good team can wipe the floor with a bad team blindfolded. So this leaves you with a game where you just pound random buttons and can only win if the computer wants you to. And then of course there's the cheating A.I. that Midway's sports games are known for. Doesn't matter how far up you are, the computer will always come back. This all just totally knocks the game down a notch.
And it's also sad to say that NHL Hitz isn't as over the top as it could be. NBA Jam had spinning dunks, flaming shots, and exploding backboards. NBA Jam was basketball to the extreme (yes it's clich? sounding, but it's true), but NHL Hitz is just like a stripped down hockey game without the rules. Aside from the on ice lightning bolt after a player gets On Fire there's nothing that makes NHL Hitz anything more than just another hockey game. Even the fighting engine is kinda bland. Sure there are buttons for a hard punch, a light punch, dodging, and grabbing, but it the winner is still decided by nothing more than who mashes buttons the fastest.
NHL Hitz may not have perfect gameplay, but it does list a lot of options in it's menu screen. You can play just a single Exhibition game. You can play a Championship season as you try to take your favorite team against all the other NHL teams. There is a Franchise mode than let's you try to take a custom team you create (more on that in a minute) through the same thing. There is also a Skills mode to practice some of the skills you'll never use in NHL Hitz. The Skills mode is fairly useless because most of the skills it tries to teach you will never be used in an actual game because they're too complex. Especially for a button masher like this. Next on the menu screen list is the Create-a-Team option. And there is a ridiculous amount of options for you to create your team with. Player faces, body types, many many body types, and total customization of player attributes. You can also earn more attribute points to make your players unstoppable by winning games with your team in the Franchise mode.
And last on the list is the very cool Hockey Shop. The Hockey Shop is a list of all the bonus items you can unlock in NHL Hitz. These include vintage jerseys, fantasy stadiums, fantasy teams, and special heads for your Create-a-Team. It's actually a very good system. You earn Hitz Credits for winning Exhibition and Championship games. 100 credits for a Rookie victory, 150 credits for Pro victory, and 200 for All-Star. You can then use these credits to buy these bonus items like sticking an alien head on your Create-a-Team or getting to play as the Midway team. You can buy the bonus items in whatever order you choose, and can keep playing until you earn enough credits to unlock them all. And like Mortal Kombat and it's Kombat Kodes, Midway has infused NHL Hitz with the same system that gives you lots of cheats to use. Big head code anyone?
As far as the graphics go, it's really pretty basic. The graphics are standard hockey stuff and aren't really all that impressive. It gets worse as the closer to the ice that you get, the blockier they get. Many animation glitches also pop up as the camera moves closer to the ice. Then the farther away the camera moves, the harder it is to find the puck. Even if the puck weren't small and hard to see, sometimes a player's helmet will drop to the ice, and it looks just like a puck. So which small black circle do you go for? Say what you will about the colored puck they used to use on Fox broadcasts and in the game Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey, but it did make the puck easier to see.
The sounds are even worse off. There are five sound effects total. A bomb drop for face-offs, a cannon for shots, a grunt when a player gets hit, the crowd, and the announcer. Sure the announcer says different things, but he's just so bland and repeats himself constantly (everything is said at least twice a game), it's just no good. He quotes Britney Spears for god sakes. Where's the style and enthusiasm of Dicky V when you need it? And Midway's highly touted Menu Jukebox, which lets you choose which tunes to listen to on the menu screen almost always seems to default to Limp Bizkit's "Rollin" even if you turn off that song. The whole thing seems like a lame gimmick to me as you're only given the choice of three songs, but who really spends enough time watching the menus that they would want to customize the menu music? It would take longer to set the songs you want than it would to change any other option and get right back into the actual game. And just to make me complain about my favorite pet peeve, the load times are terrible. The ice would melt by the time NHL Hitz would get loaded.